QSwharfth.jpg (4017 bytes)Manly Quarantine Station

QS Conservation Plan 2000 - Part 7



in 1999

on site

in the past


7.0       SHNP North Head Quarantine Station

Assessing Significance 

This is Part 7 - Assessing Significance

Part 8 - Conservation and Management Policy Issues

Part 9 - Conservation and Management Policy

Part 10 - Implementation.

7.1             NHQS Assessment :



As a preamble to the assessment of cultural and natural significance of the Quarantine Station study area, a number of key 'assessment issues' are set out and discussed. This discussion informs the subsequent assessment, refer Section 7.7 below.

The issues discussed include a review of the previous assessments and statements of significance prepared both for North Head generally and for the Quarantine Station study area specifically; the review comments made by the NSW Heritage Council, by this Plan's Reference Group, and by others in relation to the statement of significance within the 1992 NPWS NHQS Conservation Plan; the appropriate 'curtilages' for the Aboriginal heritage, Colonial and modern heritage, and Natural heritage; 'comparative' Quarantine sites and assessments both within Australia and in Northern America; and a discussion about the limitations of this assessment of cultural and natural significance.


7.2             NHQS Assessment :

                   Previous Assessments and Statements of Significance


7.2.1          Preamble


A number of assessments and statements of significance have been prepared for the Quarantine Station study area and for North Head as a whole. These statements have generally been developed as a component part of the planning and/or statutory processes related to North Head and/or the Quarantine Station study area. Each of the principal assessment and statement processes will be considered in turn below. Where appropriate, acronyms for the relevant documents will be used in text below.


7.2.2          NSW NPWS Management and Planning for North Head and Quarantine Station


As part of the NPWS management and planning for North Head and Quarantine Station, particularly subsequent to the 'hand over' of the Quarantine Station from the Commonwealth to the NSW State, a number of conservation, planning and management documents have been prepared by the Service. The principal NPWS documents relating inter alia to the natural and cultural significance of the North Head Quarantine Station are:

     Sydney Harbour National Park [SHNP] Quarantine Station [QS] 1988 Conservation Plan;

     North Head Archaeological Site Survey, Buildings and Structures Inventory, 1991, prepared for NPWS by Godden Mackay, consultants;

     SHNP QS Conservation Plan [Revised] 1992; and

     SHNP Plan of Management, 1998.

Sydney Harbour National Park Quarantine Station [QS] 1988 Conservation Plan


Margin Note:

This Conservation Plan was the adopted conservation plan for the Quarantine Station area from 1988 to 1992. The Plan was reduced from a large draft prepared, on behalf of the NPWS, by Travis Partners, Sydney. The adopted 1988 Conservation Plan was accompanied by an Appendix volume containing detailed consultant reports on aspects of Quarantine Station.


The 1988 statement of significance for Quarantine Station reads as follows:


'The Quarantine Station occupies the first site officially designated as a place of Quarantine for people entering Australia. It is the nation's oldest, largest and most intact facility of its type. The Station's use remained essentially unchanged from 1828 to 1984, and all buildings and development on the site reflect the changing social and scientific demands of Quarantine during that period.


'The formation and development of the Quarantine Station relates directly to the growth of Australia as a remote island nation. It symbolises the distance travelled and peril faced by many immigrants who first stood on Australian soil at the Quarantine Station. The site has symbolic significance for these reasons.


'The history of the site reflects the changing social and racial values of the Australian community and the development of medical practices in controlling infectious diseases. The site has historic significance in demonstrating and elucidating major themes in Australian history, immigration, the development of society and government, social welfare and health care, transport and conservation.


'Additional significance arises from evidence of Aboriginal use of the Quarantine Station site before 1828 and the meeting of Aboriginal and European cultures in the vicinity in the first decade of white settlement.


'The surviving site components, both visible and subsurface provide research and educational potential for specialists as well as for the general public. Its position as a picturesque Sydney Harbour landmark and the natural features of the site which create an ecological environment unusual in an urban context, also contribute to the significance of the Quarantine Station.'


North Head Archaeological Site Survey, 1991 :

Executive Summary Statement of Significance


Margin Note:

The survey area was the entirety of North Head excluding the Quarantine Station core precinct, the Australian Institute of Police Management [then known as the Commonwealth Police Training College], the North Head Sewerage Treatment Works, and the northern part of the North Head Defence property.


The statement of significance within the 1991 survey reads as follows:


'North Head is an integral part of a comprehensive set of natural and cultural resources that constitutes a significant part of the environmental heritage of Sydney Harbour, and the Harbour entrance particularly. As such the precinct is an historic feature which contributes to the cultural significance of the Manly and Sydney Harbour area.


'The fabric of North Head provides evidence of the establishment and development of the Quarantine Station and the major medical techniques developed to deal with infectious disease at the time. The establishment of the Quarantine Station has strong associational links with the development of Sydney and the colony. North Head was utilised for Quarantine purposes for nearly 150 years.


'North Head contains a variety of historic sites whose fabric is substantial, allowing ready interpretation and understanding of the history of the place. World War II coastal and harbour defence structures particularly provide a record of "Between the Wars" defence policy and technology. North Head is an unusual cultural landscape where large parts of the environment display evidence of remarkably little modification by human activity. Human activity provides historic focal points in an otherwise undeveloped Harbourside landscape.


'North Head includes several sites and complexes of individual significance including: an obelisk which may be the first erected in Australia; North Head Fortress which typifies a standard type of defence technology used during World War II; the Bluefish Anti-Aircraft emplacement which is the last known remaining representative of its type in the Sydney area; and the Quarantine cemeteries which are unusual sites of historic and social value.


'North Head has been an area of considerable social interest and speculation particularly because it was inaccessible to the general public. Although the headland has been gradually opened up to the public the interest has remained. North Head now has considerable recreational significance to the local community and visitors to Sydney and has the potential to attract many more visitors.'


SHNP QS Conservation Plan [Revised], 1992

Statement of Significance for the QS Study Area


Margin Note:

Note that the 'Study Area' for the 1992 Conservation Plan was more restricted than the study area for this Conservation Management Plan. The 1992 area was bounded to the west and the south by the mean high water mark [MHWM] of Spring Cove; to the east by the North Head Scenic Drive and sandstone block wall; and to the north by a direct line taken from the south end of Store Beach to the North Head Scenic Drive roundabout.


The 1992 statement of significance for Quarantine Station reads as follows:


'The Quarantine Station is a place of national historical and social significance. It occupies the first site officially designated as a place of quarantine for people entering Australia. It is the oldest, largest and most intact facility of its type. The Station's function remained unchanged from 1828 to 1984 and all buildings and developments illustrate the changing social and scientific demands of quarantine during that period.


'As such the Quarantine Station demonstrates a number of leading themes of Australian history: its development as an independent nation, relying on a growing workforce for labour and to provide markets; the importance of immigration to this process; major developments in public health and science in the 19th and 20th centuries and changing social and racial attitudes in Australian society.


'The Quarantine Station has social significance because it symbolises the distance travelled, and the perils faced, by many immigrants, who first stood on Australian soil at the Quarantine Station. It has further social significance because of the role it played, and the importance of this role in the public mind, in safeguarding the nation from hazardous disease. It also has special value for members of the community who were detained there, or whose relatives lived and died there.


'The place has regional aesthetic significance because of the unity of the design and form of the buildings, set within grassy precincts, which convey a pleasant village-like feeling, unusual within the Sydney metropolitan area. This feeling is heightened by the contrast provided by the bushland surrounds and the spectacular natural setting of the harbour.


'The surviving fabric of the place, both its elements, components and subsurface archaeological evidence, have considerable research value at a State level, with the potential to provide information on the operation of the Quarantine Station, and so to add to our knowledge of its history.


SHNP Plan of Management [PoM], 1998


Margin Note:

The SHNP covers 393 hectares of headlands, beaches and islands in and around Sydney Harbour.


The Plan of Management does not contain a statement of significance for North Head or the Quarantine Station area specifically, but provides the following significance summary for the Park generally:


Margin Note:

Landscape Values


'Sydney Harbour National Park protects much of the scenic backdrop to Sydney Harbour.

'The park comprises a varied landscape of outstanding scenic value, which includes spectacular sandstone cliffs and headlands, small sandy beaches and rocky foreshores, natural vegetation, grassed clearings and historic structures and plantings.


Margin Note:

Historic Value


'Sydney Harbour National Park contains historic places illustrating important phases in the development of Sydney and the nation, from its first settlement by Europeans. These demonstrate the themes of immigration, navigation, defence, quarantine, maritime industry and settlement.

'Sites of recognised national historic significance in the park include the Quarantine Station, the Middle Head/Georges Head complex of fortifications and the ammunition magazines on Goat Island. Fort Denison, Bradleys Head, Nielsen Park and the other islands within the park also contain places of high historical and interpretive value.

'More than 20 other historic places in the park have been identified in the Sydney and Middle Harbours Regional Environmental Plan as being of state or regional significance.


Margin Note:

Archaeological Value


'The park contains evidence of Aboriginal occupation of what is now one of the most developed parts of Australia.

'The Aboriginal sites within the park demonstrate aspects of life in the area before and immediately after European settlement.


Margin Note:

Ecological Value


'The native bush within the park is an important indicator of the species present in the Sydney area before it was developed.

'Sydney Harbour National Park protects five rare plant species, and vegetation communities of high scientific value.

'The Park provides valuable habitat in the centre of Sydney for a number of native birds and animals.

'It complements other land reserved for nature conservation in the Sydney metropolitan area.'


SHNP PoM, 1998


7.2.3          NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning [DUAP]: Management and Planning of North Head


The principal DUAP documents relating inter alia to the natural and cultural significance of the North Head Quarantine Station area are:

      North Head Planning Strategy [Draft], 1996, prepared for DUAP by Clouston consultants

      State Environmental Planning Policy No. 56 [SEPP 56] Sydney Harbour Foreshores and Tributaries, 1999

      State Environmental Planning Policy No. 23 [SEPP 23] Sydney and Middle Harbours, 1999

      Sydney Harbour and Tributaries: Discussion Paper, Towards a Vision and Strategic Program, DUAP, 1999


North Head Planning Strategy [Draft], 1996


Margin Note:

The study area for the planning strategy was the entire North Head area and associated coastal and Harbour waters; bounded at the north by Ashburner Street, Manly.


The 'Statement of Values and Significance' within the Strategy reads as follows:


'North Head is of national significance. The area represents a place of cultural and natural diversity reflecting the evolution of Sydney from Aboriginal occupation through European settlement to the landscape of today representing many social, historic, recreational, environmental and educational values. It has maintained an iconic presence to the city as the gateway to our harbour.


'The natural landscape and marine environment of the headland encompasses a large number of vegetation communities whose integrity and diversity is unique in the Sydney Region. Flora and fauna communities have evolved and adapted and in some cases are regionally significant for their restricted distribution. North Head Includes a range of evidence of Aboriginal occupation, predominantly water oriented. The full significance of which has yet to be further realised through archaeological investigation.


'North Head documents and continues to house an extensive variety of land uses (Military, Religious, Residential, Immigration, operational). The headland is particularly important for its historically significant landscapes and items that remain in a high degree of integrity. The Quarantine Station also illustrates the history of disease, migration and medical practice in this country.


'The Artillery School lands represent a strategic military site and its significant role in the defence of Sydney and the NSW coastline and metropolitan area. The St Patrick's Estate helps tell the story of the Catholic Church in Australia. Moran House provides a landmark that identifies the landscape as culturally significant with a grand and evocative quality that appeals to twentieth century sensibilities.


'The role of North Head North head has been identified as being of national significance for its scenic qualities - including the views for the harbour in the context of the other harbour headlands and the grandeur of the cliff faces. The headland provides for a wide spectrum of interests for the local or regional visitor. It is uncommon for such a range to be encompassed in one site that nonetheless retains a sense of grandeur, isolation and tranquillity. Important as individual aspects of the place are, it is the combination of these elements that describe the true significance of North Head.'


SEPP 56 and SEPP 23, 1999


These Policy documents do not contain assessments or statements of significance.


Sydney Harbour and Tributaries: Discussion Paper, Towards a Vision and Strategic Program, DUAP, 1999


This is a Discussion Paper and not a conservation or statutory planning document. However, the discussion paper does address cultural and natural significance matters in text and map descriptions.

Sydney Harbour and Tributaries Discussion Paper, 1999


7.2.4          Manly Council [MC]: Management and Planning for North Head


The principal MC documents relating to the natural and cultural significance of the North Head/Quarantine Station area are:


Nomination of North Head

to the Register of the National Estate [RNE], 1999


This RNE nomination for North Head was prepared in 1999 and submitted to the Australian Heritage Commission for consideration. The statement of significance for North Head was prepared for the Manly Council by a specialist consultant team [CLS&P/Hochule/Osborne]. The 'Brief Statement' reads as follows:

 Manly Council RNE nomination, 1999


'North Head is a place of unique national cultural and natural significance in that it is an isolated headland, located within the largest, oldest and most populous city in Australia, of substantially unalienated Crown land containing a range of founding establishments (immigration, defence and church) important to the European development of the nation, set within a landscape of high scenic values retaining examples of landforms, fauna and vegetation types which are representative of marine and terrestrial environments of the Sydney region.


'North Head is a striking cliff-bound tied island complex formed by the interaction of strong bedrock and erosion associated with changes of sea level. It is bounded on the west by flooded (ria) valleys and on the east and south by spectacular sea cliffs. The headland is capped by rare Pleistocene high-level sand dunes. As a result of its natural insular character, unusual history of European land management and atypical fire history, the biology of North Head consists of isolated, remnant and disjunct communities and populations.


'North Head supports a range of vegetation communities containing rare, endangered and endemic plants. Significant species are the stringybark (EUCALYPTUS CAMFIELDII), wet heath ground cover (RULINGIA HERMANIIFOLIA), Nodding Raspwort (GONOCARPUS SALSOLOIDES), ground orchid (ERYTHORCHIS CASSYTHOIDES) and the Sunshine Wattle (ACACIA TERMINALS SSP TERMINALIS).


'A range of plant species are either limited in their distribution across Sydney to North Head, or are indicative localised examples of a wider distribution pattern, including; Broad-leaved Paperbark (MELALEUCA QUINQUENERVIA), Dry, smooth-barked Apple (ANGOPHORA COSTATA), Tea Tree (LEPTOSPERMUM LAEVIGATUM), and Swamp Oak (CASUARINA GLAUCA). Plant communities at North Head considered to be rare or unusual are LEPTOSPERMUM LAEVOGANTUM scrub, Wet Heathland, Prostrate Heathland and Dwarf Heathland.


'The fauna of North Head includes rare and threatened breeding populations of the Long-nosed Bandicoot (PERAMELES NASUTA), Red-crowned Toadlet (PSEUDOPHRYNE AUSTRALIS), and Little Penguin (EUDYPTULA MINOR). The penguin colony is the last surviving breeding population on the mainland of New South Wales. North Head is visited by four species migratory birds listed under the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement and Spring Cove is visited by the Southern Right Whale (EUBALAENA AUSTRALIS), and Humpback Whale (MEGAPETRA NOVAENGLIAE) during migration.


'The North Harbour Aquatic Reserve provides shelter for the larvae of tropical fish and invertebrates brought south by the East Australian Current and the reef in Cabbage Tree Bay supports an assemblage of plants and animals which is characteristic of temperate reefs in the central New South Wales region.


'North Head contains a range of evidence for research sites into the predominantly water orientated pre-1788 Aboriginal occupation of the area: a stone obelisk erected c.1800-1810 which is believed to be the earliest extant maritime navigational aid in the nation; the former Quarantine Station established in 1828 and closed in 1984, which is the oldest, largest and most intact quarantine facility in Australia with elements of individual note including buildings, grounds, four cemeteries, stone cairn, enclosing stone walls, rock carvings and other features such as the jetty; the former St. Patricks Estate which is a key element in the story of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia with its Seminary (completed in 1889) and Cardinals Residence (completed in 1885) and associated modified landscape; former Second World War era fortifications which now retain the oldest surviving radar site in the nation, and representative examples of gun emplacements, anti-aircraft batteries and associated supporting infrastructure; the School of Artillery established after the Second World War and which utilises part of the original 1930s barrack and administrative structures associated with the now disused fortifications; the site and remains of the former Gas Light and Coke Company which operated between 1884 and 1964 and is associated with early suburban development in this part of Sydney; and a range of private and public buildings, institutions and reserves such as Manly District Hospital (dedicated c.l896 - with buildings dating from the 1880s and 1930s), Park Hill Reserve (dedicated 1937 - with drives, stone walls and lookouts), the Australian Police College (established 1960 - with buildings from the 1910s), the Northern Suburbs Ocean Outfall Sewer outlet (completed in 1928 and was the termination of third such ocean outfall system established in Sydney), the 1857 wreck of the merchant ship Catherine Anderson, an event which is associated with the mid-nineteenth century commencement of lightstation building in New South Wales, and the residential area of Ashburner Street to the boundary of St. Patricks Estate which contains representative examples of late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century suburban domestic architecture.


7.2.5          Critique of the 1992 NHQS Conservation Plan

                   Statement of Significance


It is proposed only to closely analyse the 1992 NHQS Conservation Plan Statement of Significance. The Statement within the 1992 Plan has received a good deal of scrutiny, as a result of a call for comment [on the 1992 Plan] as a part of this [current] Conservation Management Plan. The 1992 Plan and statement of significance was also the subject of review by the NSW Heritage Council as part of the process of reviewing the current [Mawlands] lease proposal for the place by the Manly Council as part of the 'comment' process on the 1992 Plan; and by the Reference Group to this Plan as part of that Group's input to this Plan.


Margin Note:

Refer Section 1: Introduction for Background to this Conservation Management Plan and Appendix C Responses to 1992 Conservation Plan document


NSW Heritage Council Review


The critique of this assessment against the criteria and of the statement of significance by the NSW Heritage Council reads as follows:


'… The criteria should be updated to use those now in effect under the Heritage Amendment Act 1998. The levels should be updated to those now in effect under the Heritage Amendment Act 1998. The level of 'national' significance, if it is to be used, should include a reference to the definition of the level. The levels of significance should be clearly derived from the preceding investigation sections, notably the comparative analysis.


'The statement should be revised in light of the above and of other new information in the investigation sections. It should include some reference to natural values, and the use of the place for scientific/natural history research (if these are significant). The [precinctual] statements should be revised in light of the above. A statement is required for the 'bushland' precinct (the terrestrial area within the reserve not within any other precinct) and the 'marine' precinct (the aquatic area of the reserve not within any other precinct). If Natural Heritage Charter criteria are used in these statements, then these criteria should also be set out in section 6.1.'


Manly Council Review


The critique of the 1992 statement of significance by the Manly Council [Abrahams/Osborne/Hochule consultancy] reads as follows:


'The 1992 statement of significance should be revised to include moveable heritage as there are very substantial collections of furniture and fittings in the hospital and possibly other precincts. The statement of significance should be revised to include social significance, the value of which is attested by the strong interest in [the QS] tours over the last nine years.


'The statement of significance should be revised to include all the historic curtilage of quarantine station, that is, North Head as a whole. … the [building by building] rankings appear to be quite at odds with the value of the buildings which would result from an analysis of their function in the running of the station. For instance, A11 and 12 Bath Houses [category 2] are functionally integral with A7 Autoclave [category 1]. Similarly A8, Formalin Chambers [category 3] are functionally integral with A7 Autoclave [category 1].


'Overall, the more one studies the inter-relationships between the buildings and other parts of the Quarantine Station, this [building by building] categorising into three ranks becomes more and more difficult to resolve. It may be that a more useful ranking derives from a study of their potential to interpret.


'Natural heritage values and the use of the place for scientific research [both medical and natural] need to be included in the statement of significance. The statement of significance and values tables in the Manly Council [1999] North Head statement of significance should be used to assist with this revision.


'While [the introduction of a bushland and marine precinct into the statement of significance] is a good suggestion, it would be wrong to conclude that there are only two identifiable areas of natural heritage significance at the Quarantine Station, that all of the bushland is of equal significance, or that natural heritage significance is restricted to the bushland and the marine areas. … Items of geoheritage significance, mesophyll plant communities and the long-nosed bandicoots are certainly not restricted to areas of uncleared natural vegetation at the Quarantine Station.


'There is a need to recognise in the plan areas with distinct natural heritage characteristics (equivalent to the precincts of the built environment), discuss their significance and plan for their conservation and management. These areas can best be identified following the production of high quality geodiversity, flora and faunal distribution maps. … One such area, for example, could be the sandstone ridge running from the Hospital to Cannae Point and the rest of the vegetated sandstone area continuing from it between the road to Isolation and the grass sand in the valley below the Third Class Quarters.


'In addition to simply ignoring the natural heritage significance of the natural environment at the Quarantine Station, this [summary statement of significance] also fails to recognise the scientific significance of the place. There is no discussion of any medical research undertaken at the place, not is there any mention of past, recent or current use, or significance, of the place for research in the natural sciences or as a type locality. The Quarantine Station is strongly associated with the pioneering zoological research of James Stuart, who served as surgeon at the Quarantine Ground in the 1830s. Spring Cove, probably the Quarantine Station, is the type locality for the Brown Antechinus, Antechinus stuartii (Macleay, 1841).


'Scientific and medical research into infectious diseases was carried out at the Station during its years of operation. This is an important part of the significance of the place and needs to be recognised. It is particularly important in relation to the significance and interpretation of the Morgue (really a post-mortem room and laboratory) and some of the portable heritage items. …[the Plan] mentions a relationship between artefacts at the Station and the former School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at the University of Sydney. This may be a useful link to explore in terms of understanding the role of the station in

medical research.'


National Trust of Australia [NSW]


The National Trust of Australia [NSW] wrote that '… it is believed that the Manly Quarantine Station is a remarkably intact complex that represents many critical aspects of Australia's history and development. It is our opinion that the site is of National cultural significance…'.


Friends of Quarantine Station [FROQS]


The Friends submitted a lengthy critique of the 1992 Plan and its statement of significance specifically; and appended a commissioned consultants' response on Plan issues.


The FROQS submission[1] related to significance is as follows:


'… The existing Conservation Plan … fails to adequately consider the natural and indigenous heritage values of North Head which need to be understood and interpreted within an integrated topography. The Study Area for a Conservation Management Plan should include all that area which is pertinent to the full and proper assessment of natural and heritage significance and its management as well as its surroundings.


'Clearly the area should include (but not be limited to) the whole of North Head, including the St Patrick's Estate. The reasons for this can be established in terms of past, present and future significance.


Margin note:

Past Significance


'The Quarantine Station in its earliest period occupied the whole of North Head and, prior to 1874, also included that land which now forms the St Patrick's Estate at Manly. The Study Area, therefore, of necessity, should include all of the historic lands.'


Margin note:

Present Significance


'The natural significance of North Head as a unified and unique biological and geological system requires that the whole of North Head and adjacent waterways be included in the Study Area. The habitats of threatened species, for instance, are not limited to the boundaries of the Quarantine Station. There have been a number of previous studies and reports (including that by the North Head Section 22 Advisory Committee) which highlite [sic] the importance of regarding North Head as a whole in any conservation or management plan. Impacts on the Manly residential area and town centre also need to be included in terms of access, traffic, usage and amenity. Views of the Quarantine Station from Little Manly Point, Manly Point and the water are also very significant.


Margin note:

Future Significance


'The proposed transfer of the Artillery School and later the Australian Institute of Police Management sites to National Park needs detailed consideration in the new Conservation Management Plan. The sites are significant not only for their previous cultural association and current nature interdependency with the Quarantine Station, but also for the potentially dramatic impacts that their changes of use will bring to North Head. The inclusion of these sites in the Study Area is paramount and becomes even more so given the National Parks and Wildlife Service is proposing a lease arrangement in excess of 40 years in which time significant changes will have occurred. A unified Conservation Management Plan which considers the conservation and adaptation of the combined sites will be far more beneficial in the long term than a study of the Quarantine Station alone.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage


'The Conservation Plan provides a totally inadequate description of the geodiversity of the Quarantine Station, in particular the significance of the Pleistocene high level dune sands which occur on much of the site. The hydrogeology section makes no mention of the wetlands and source of the spring. The fragile soil landscapes are prone to wind and water erosion and need assessment prior to any intensification of use…


Margin note:

Aboriginal Heritage


'The Conservation Plan pays scant regard to the historical and cultural significance of Aboriginal sites found within the Quarantine Station. The documentation is minimal. The Plan itself acknowledges that 'other sites have not yet been properly recorded or assessed "... Indeed, more disturbing is the notation in the Plan that the significance of these sites to the local Aboriginal community has not been assessed".


'Not withstanding the above statements, the Plan under Section 6: Statement of Significance states; "The Aboriginal sites are of minor scientific/research value but have educational potential and are likely to have social and contemporary significance to the Aboriginal community'"… While these sites are of special significance to the Aboriginal community, they are also of great importance to the whole community and should be seen as an integral part of the whole community's heritage.'


The FROQS consultant[2] comment relating to the 1992 statement of significance reads [in part]:


'There is a degree of inconsistency between the statements of significance for, on the one hand, the Station and its precincts, and, on the other hand, individual buildings. The Station as a whole and the precincts within it are described as highly significant. The Summary notes that the Station is "the oldest, largest and most intact facility of its type" (i.e. in Australia). The implication of this sentence alone is that in view of its extremely rare qualities and its intact condition few of the Station buildings could be substantially removed, added to or modified, without having a major adverse impact on the significance of the place as a whole.


'… This [1992 building] categorisation is inadequate to deal with the complexities of the individual structures. As the Plan itself notes, "… the identification of significant elements and components will need to be verified by more detailed study if the building is to be conserved". Such a process should be carried out for all the nominated structures, and they should all be listed in the revised Conservation Plan according to meaningful categories which make clear the implications for constraints on future works programs. The various categories should be defined in terms of not only their relative significance for the building and its component parts and contents, but also the extent of preservation required and the extent if any to which removal or modification of parts of the structure is acceptable.


'Even assuming that the categories provided in the statements of significance for individual buildings are ranked from most to least worthy of preservation, the ratings are often difficult to justify. For example, the wharf is given a category 3, the lowest rating (presumably because it contains no early extant fabric). However, it appears to have major historic significance for the Station, being described as:

"…main point of entry to QS. Area of first landfall for many immigrants to Australia. Reflects the place's strong links with and dependence on maritime transport." '


Other Responses


The critiques of the 1992 statement of significance by respondents to the NPWS call for comment on the 1992 Plan [as part of this current Conservation Management Plan process] produced many useful responses. Whilst many responses referred to the stated NPWS intention to lease Quarantine Station [1998 SHNP PoM], many made comment on significance issues.


Margin Note:

Refer Appendix C:

Public Submissions Related to the 1992 Conservation Management Plan.


The comments on the cultural and natural significance of NHQS ranged from brief [and sometimes emotive] statements about the importance of the place to longer responses prepared by NHQS interest groups. Some of these more personal responses are as follows:

'… it is of significance to indigenous culture, and also to our own earliest arrival in Australia…'

'… This place is a powerful page in Sydney's history … so close to a growing bustling Sydney, yet so far, apart, preoccupied by death and stubborn survival…'

'… If [North Head] is also seen in the context of the 'garden' of Sydney Harbour … and that the headland is seen as the north flank of the city gateway … its cultural heritage is unique. I don't know of any similar urban place … anywhere'.[3]


7.3             NHQS Assessment :

                   Curtilage for the Assessment


Margin note:

Aboriginal Heritage Assessment:



Aboriginal heritage value and 'curtilage' have several aspects. As a broad principle such value attaches to the whole North Head area, experienced by present day Aborigines as an Aboriginal cultural landscape, its present ambience being a vital part of this landscape. Within this area there are also physical manifestations of past Aboriginal presence and land use. Non-material links are added through reference to records and written accounts from the early days of British administration. Some of these refer to Aboriginal persons known to have been connected with this area.


Given the long history of Aboriginal presence in the Sydney area, material evidence of this presence may occur almost anywhere in the Quarantine Station study unless natural surfaces have been removed down to and into underlying rock formations. The presence or former presence of structures dating to recent centuries does not necessarily remove or obscure this evidence.


Partly due to the topography and bushland setting and in spite of a number of archaeological surveys, there is an acknowledged lack of detailed and up to date information relating to individual locations with material remains of Aboriginal origin. This precludes detailed assessment in this document of their management needs with regard to, for example, curtilages and visitor access.


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage Assessment:



The curtilage for the assessment of Colonial and modern cultural values is easier to determine. Clearly the origins of the Quarantine Station relate to the entire North Head area, as the original Quarantine Reserve once extended as far north as Collins Flat, refer sequential plans, Section 4 above. The Quarantine Station study area occupies roughly the eastern portion of the original Quarantine Region. In consequence, the curtilage of this assessment has been taken to be the broader North Head context generally [ie to the original Quarantine Region northern boundary] and the Quarantine Station study area, as briefed, specifically.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage Assessment:



The study area for the natural heritage is that used in the nomination for of North Head to the Register of the National Estate a plan showing the extent of this study area can be seen at Section 7.2.4 above.


7.4             NHQS Assessment :

                   Limitations to the Assessment


The assessment and statement of significance for a place will, inevitably, be as authoritative and definitive as is allowed by the available information. There are acknowledged 'gaps' in our knowledge and understanding of the Quarantine Station study area, and in consequence, these limitations to the assessment process must be recognised.


Margin note:

Aboriginal Heritage Assessment:



One of the principal limitations of the Aboriginal assessment is the requirement, by both Aboriginal and NSW Heritage interests, that the actual nature and extent of Aboriginal sites be not publicly defined. This prohibition protects the fabric and integrity of the various Aboriginal sites, but the limitation of such a convention is that it is consequently difficult to provide a holistic reportage on the Aboriginal heritage of the place.


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage Assessment:


The analysis of the values of the colonial and modern heritage items has been limited to the information that is readily accessible form published sources and from a number of brief site inspections. No attempt has been made to verify details in primary sources or to assess the full significance of the place through detailed, and comprehensive site analysis. The latter will be undertaken as part of the exercise to prepare conservation management plans for the individual areas and precincts.


A number of buildings were not examined in detail. None of the occupied cottages were inspected internally. Only a small number of representative examples of the occupied rooms in the first class and second class accommodation were inspected. None of the interiors of the locked, occupied service buildings were inspected. Nor was there any attempt to locate and examine the full range of site features [inscriptions, archaeological sites and random features], other than those were readily accessible during six site visits and inspections by foot.



Margin note:

Natural Heritage Assessment:



With respect to natural heritage significance, there is no comprehensive flora and fauna assessment of the entire site using techniques comparable with those used in recent flora and fauna assessments undertaken by the NPWS in their Comprehensive Regional Assessments. There is no vegetation map based on field sampling and air photo interpretation showing all identified vegetation communities; and species of flora and fauna of national, state and regional conservation significance have not been identified nor have the threats to their survival.


There is no study to compare the flora and fauna on North Head with those of other naturally vegetated areas of Sydney Harbour, as well as with other coastal remnant vegetation of the Sydney metropolitan area. Habitats of rare and threatened species have not been mapped; areas of frequent use or movement pathways, favoured feeding or nesting areas of threatened species have not been identified and mapped; and there is no soils map available at a scale which enables capabilities to accommodate various activities and erodibility to be assessed. Finally, activities which are proposed for the site need to be identified to enable their impact on flora and fauna to be assessed and means of reducing or eliminating impacts identified.


7.5             NHQS Assessment :

                   Comparative Assessment/Aboriginal Heritage


The Aboriginal heritage values of the North Head area are of national significance for several reasons. Numerous Aboriginal traditions from various parts of the continent refer to and intermesh the creation of their natural and cultural environment; Sydney Harbour can be seen as the outcome of such a creative period. Aborigines were demonstrably present in the Sydney Basin many thousands of years before the present coastline was formed and would have experienced the actual creation of Sydney Harbour with its rich and complex environment.


The North Head area is one of the last within the Sydney Harbour environment, that is within an important urban setting, where Aboriginal heritage values have been retained in a physical setting that is substantially intact.


On a National scale, the Harbour environment, including North Head, formed the scene of or backdrop for some of the earliest and formative interaction between Aborigines and the British invaders. Examples of heritage material remaining here are seen as symbolizing Aboriginal history of recent centuries as well as earlier times. Just as the Heads became a symbol to New Australians of a possible new and better life, they are seen by many Aborigines as a symbol of their loss of possibilities for a traditional life style. The protection of Aboriginal heritage at North Head and its future management under Aboriginal guidance, could become a symbol of new beginnings.


7.6             NHQS Assessment :

                   Comparative Assessment The Australian Quarantine Context


7.6.1          Preamble


The significance of the North Head Quarantine Station should be understood in the context of the wider Australian quarantine system, and of international developments in infectious disease control. Australian and international comparators were difficult to analyse in detail given the limited scope of the present CMP study, but some comparative material is discussed within this section below, and in Section 7.7.


Margin note:

Section 7.7:

The International Quarantine Context


Australian quarantine was functionally administered in the nineteenth century by the separate colonies. In consequence, attitudes to quarantine, and the practice of quarantine, varied widely from colony to colony. It was not until Federation that the quarantine functions were gathered under the aegis of the Commonwealth, and administered on a national basis. North Head Quarantine Station, as with other Australian quarantine stations, passed through the inevitable changes in administration and approach which resulted from the handover of quarantine functions to the Commonwealth.


The Sydney Quarantine station can be seen by this comparison to be the oldest Australian quarantine station; to be [together with Melbourne] one of the two largest quarantines in Australia; to have a comparatively high degree of survival of quarantine structures and evidence, and to have been a seminal influence, again with Melbourne, in the design of the Commonwealth quarantine function.


7.6.2          The Melbourne Quarantine Stations


There were two nineteenth century quarantine stations in the Colony of Victoria. The first was at Point Ormond at Hobson's Bay, and the second was at Point Nepean.


The other major quarantine station directly comparable with that at North Head is the Melbourne Quarantine Station at Point Nepean. Established in 1852 [following the earlier quarantine ground at Point Ormond] as the 'Sanitary Station', Point Nepean station was well removed form Melbourne at the Port Phillip Heads. Construction of quarantine buildings started in 1853, following the quarantine of the Ticonderoga in the previous year[4]. The construction of a series of five stone two-storey hospital buildings commenced in 1856, these being substantial and permanent buildings which distinguished the station from that at Sydney, where the buildings were much simpler timber structures. These buildings gave the station the capacity to house 500 persons, and by 1860 the Melbourne station was probably the largest and best appointed quarantine ground in Australia[5].


The Melbourne Quarantine Station was upgraded at the turn of the century, with the construction of a large disinfecting and bathing complex. These developments appear to have set the pattern for similar facilities built from 1912 at North Head, and reflect the influence of the chief public health official in Victoria, Dr Gresswell, a leading figure in the push for a Federal system of quarantine. Melbourne station was again upgraded by the Commonwealth after 1909, in parallel with the Sydney station. The station was little used after 1957, and was closed in 1980[6].


Insert image



'Quarantine Station, Hobson's Bay'

Harold John Graham, 1881, pen and ink drawing.

This is the Portsea Quarantine Station, illustrated by Graham in his Sketches in Victoria and Tasmania, R9866/20

NLA, Canberra, IMAGES No. 11701


The two-storey hospital blocks at Point Nepean distinguish the Melbourne station from the substantially timber one-storey buildings at the Sydney station, which was also the pattern followed at all of the other quarantine stations around Australia. Despite this structural difference, the Melbourne Quarantine Station developed during the late nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century in parallel with that in Sydney, and in terms of the story of quarantine and its role in controlled migration to Australia, these two [Sydney and Melbourne] stations have to be considered as the most nationally important and influential sites.


7.6.3          The Brisbane Quarantine Stations


The first quarantine station was at Dunwich on Stradbroke Island, established in 1850. This operated until the station was transferred to Peel Island, also in Moreton Bay, in 1874. Peel Island, however, was relatively little used, and some of its buildings were transferred for use as Benevolent Asylum accommodation from 1904, and from 1910 as an Inebriate Asylum[7]. Part of the island was used to house leprosy sufferers from 1907 until 1959. In 1915 the Commonwealth opened a new quarantine station at Lytton, on the Brisbane River. This new station was designed in accordance with the now standardised Commonwealth pattern, based largely on developments at the Melbourne and Sydney stations.


The Dunwich quarantine station buildings appear to have been demolished, and it is not clear what survives on Peel Island. The Lytton station buildings are timber single-storey structures, and reflect many of the features seen in the developments at the Sydney station at that time. Lytton is the only complete major quarantine station built entirely by the Commonwealth Quarantine Service. Many of these buildings appear to survive.[8]


Minor sub-stations were established at Thursday Island and Townsville, but because of time constraints, comparative information on these has not been pursued.


7.6.4          The Adelaide Quarantine Station


The Adelaide Quarantine Station, at Torrens Island, was established in the 1870s, but was extensively redeveloped by the Commonwealth between 1912 and 1920. One of the 30 original 1878 cottages used to house passengers survives, but other surviving fabric relates to the standardised Commonwealth style. The Torrens Island station does not appear to contain the depth of evidence present at the Sydney or Melbourne stations.[9]


7.6.5          The Western Australian Quarantine Stations


The quarantining of ships in King George’s Sound, Albany, occurred as early as 1836, with the ships being moored offshore for the duration of the quarantine period. A quarantine station was established at Albany in 1875, following a case of the premature release of a vessel with smallpox aboard, which had to be subsequently quarantined in both Melbourne and Sydney. The station was upgraded in the 1890s, in the early 1900s, and again after the Commonwealth acquired control over quarantine. However, its use this century was limited, and it was transferred back to the State in 1956, becoming a holiday resort then a youth camp, Camp Quaranup[10]. The 1996 conservation plan details the surviving buildings, which comprise a small complex of timber and stone single-story accommodation and disinfection buildings, with a separated hospital. Restoration of a number of buildings has taken place since the 1980s, and some new construction has occurred.


A quarantine station was established at Woodmans Point, south of Fremantle, in 1876, was expanded in 1903-04, and was reported by Norris at the time of the Commonwealth’s takeover as being well planned and developed[11]. The station was used to quarantine troops returning from Europe after WWI, and new buildings were added during the period of Commonwealth expansion of quarantine services nationally between 1919 and 1924. It was returned to the State in 1974. The station consists of four accommodation blocks, bath, laundry and fumigation facilities, two hospital blocks, a morgue and crematorium and staff housing[12]. The design and layout reflects the Commonwealth design, and is in many ways similar, though much less extensive, to that at North Head.


Minor sub-stations were built at Broome and Bunbury, but information on these has not been accessed for comparative purposes.


7.6.6          The Tasmanian Quarantine Station


The Quarantine Station of Bruny Island was established about 1885, and was used by the 1980s as a plant quarantine site. Several buildings survived at that time, including brick fumigation and mortuary buildings. The station appears to have been small, and largely developed, following Federation, by the Commonwealth.[13]


7.7             NHQS Assessment :

                   Comparative Assessment The International Quarantine Context


7.7.1          Preamble


Given the time constraints of this study, only four international examples have been documented within this brief comparative exercise, so the validity of this comparison is limited. The comparative examples are all in North America/Canada: Ellis Island, New York, USA; Angel Island, San Francisco, USA; Gross Île, Quebec, Canada; and Partridge Island, Newfoundland, Canada. However, the Sydney Quarantine Station is shown to stand up well in comparison with those four examples. While Ellis Island is a very well known site, the quarantine component is only a part of the whole, and is not a prominent part. The same is true for Angel Island, which has also suffered from major demolition of original buildings. No additional information about the quarantine buildings or processes at these sites was able to be located, and the level of survival of quarantine elements at Ellis Island is not clear.


The Grosse Île station has a roughly parallel history to that of the Sydney station, and is valued and managed for a similar set of values, reflecting both the immigrant experience and the development of public health policy in the country. The building stock at Grosse Île is more like that at the Melbourne quarantine station, and no plan information is available to compare separation arrangements at the station, though the segregation of sick and well, and of the different classes applied in all cases.


A common characteristic of three of the four North American examples is that they were very largely concerned with cross-Atlantic immigration, and that is why they are celebrated. Angel Island dealt with the Asian and Pacific immigration into the USA for a relatively short period only. The Australian stations, including that at North Head, can be distinguished because they relate to the much longer Europe to Australia immigrant route, and to a lesser degree to Pacific and Indian Ocean trade. They tell a distinctly Australian story, just as the four comparisons tell a North American story.


Accepting that only a small sample of comparative places has been studied, it would appear that the Sydney Quarantine Station compares favourably with the best known North American quarantine stations [in significance terms], in that it has a high level of survival of quarantine buildings and other fabric, clearly demonstrates though its remains the experiences of the immigrants and others who stayed there, and reflects a distinctly Australian story of immigration and involvement in world trade.


7.7.2          Ellis Island, New York, USA


Quarantine was only a small part of the functioning of Ellis Island, the main entry point for European immigrants established in New York harbour in 1892. Earlier immigration entry had been at Castle Garden, New York, but little information is readily available on this site.


Insert image



Arrival at Ellis Island

From Ellis Island Site Map & Website <ellisisland.com/history>


At Ellis Island buildings were largely destroyed by fire in 1897, and new buildings were erected by 1899, including the recently restored masonry main entry hall building. More than 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. On landing at Ellis Island, immigrants were processed by a series of examinations. They were first examined by quarantine officers for infectious disease, those found to have diseases or have been in contact with them being detained at a quarantine establishment on the Island, or returned to their country of origin. Up to 20% of immigrants were also detained for other reasons, such as age or poverty, until suitable arrangements for their entry into America or return to native land could be made.


No details about the quarantine facilities at Ellis Island were able to be obtained for this report.


7.7.3          Angel Island, San Francisco, USA


Angel Island, located within San Francisco Bay, was used as a quarantine station from 1910 to 1940 as the Immigration Station for migration through the Pacific. It is now a National Historic Landmark site within the US government’s heritage system. The station consisted originally of three large wooden frame structures, a concrete power house, a wharf, underground water tanks, staff quarters and outbuildings. Between 1910 and 1940 about one million people were processed through the station, which carried out the same procedures as at Ellis Island, described above. Quarantine was only a part of this process. In 1940 the administration building was destroyed by fire, and the station closed, being replaced by a new station in San Francisco itself.


The station subsequently became a prisoner of war processing station during WWII. The site was then abandoned, until taken over by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 1963, which demolished the wharf, administration buildings and staff quarters. The barracks were saved because of lobbying to conserve the Asian inscriptions on the walls, including over 100 poems in Chinese. Many of these have been subsequently painted over. Three major structures survive, being the two-storey timber detention barracks, the hospital and the power house, as well as some WWII POW buildings. The site is now actively managed and conserved.[14]


7.7.4          Grosse Île, Quebec, Canada


A quarantine station operated on Grosse Île in the St Lawrence River near Quebec City from 1832 to 1937. The station was opened mainly to deal with the greatly increased immigration from Britain and Ireland in the 1830s, a time when cholera was causing epidemics in Europe. In the 1840s the Irish immigrants arrived in very large numbers during the potato famine, peaking at 100,000 arriving in 1847, at the time of a typhus epidemic in Ireland. Quarantine procedures were ad hoc, and facilities were inadequate for the numbers accommodated, and thousands of Irish died on the island in 1847 alone.[15]


Grosse Île was extensively upgraded from 1869, to ensure separation of the sick and the well. A two storey brick hospital was built in 1881, and two-storey brick ‘hotels’ were built between the 1890s and WWI for accommodation of first, second and third class passengers. Disinfection of goods and vessels was practiced. Immigration rates were high in the early years of this century, reaching 225,000 in 1914 alone, but WWI and then the depression cut immigration severely. At the same time the rate of infectious disease dropped and quarantine was less used, and the quarantine station was closed in 1937. Between 1829 and 1941 a total of 4.15 million immigrants passed through Quebec port, 75% of them after 1867.[16]


Grosse Île is now a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada. The quarantine buildings, such as the disinfection block, the hospital, and the third class hotel [ at least] survive as visitor attractions. Parks Canada maintains a web site related to Grosse Île. The web site provides a guide to the site and its history; and to the current management and visitation arrangements for the 'detail' Grosse Île Historic Site. The web site also provides an archive of historical and current photographs of Grosse Île, which is an innovative and useful research and visitation tool.


Insert image



The Eastern Wharf, not dated.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

D.A. McKaughlin, National Archives of Canada, PA-14832. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



The Western Wharf, Disinfection Building and Cabin Detention Building, not dated.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

D.A. McKaughlin, National Archives of Canada, PA-14826. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



The Boiler for the Steam Disinfection Apparatus, not dated.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

D.A. McKaughlin, National Archives of Canada, PA-14820. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



The Medical Assistant's Residence, not dated.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

D.A. McKaughlin, National Archives of Canada, PA-14824. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



The Medical Assistant's Residence.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

Parks Canada/Jacques Beardsell, 1999. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



The Battery, Grosse Île, ND.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

D.A. McKaughlin, National Archives of Canada, PA-14833. Grosse Île web site.


Insert image



Part of the island's western sector with the pier, the disinfection building and the second and third class hotel. At the far right is the first class hotel. Not dated.

Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.

Parks Canada/Jacques Beardsell. Grosse Île web site.


7.7.5          Partridge Island, St John, Canada


Partridge Island was the quarantine station at the entrance to St John Harbour, in New Brunswick. It is claimed to be North America’s first quarantine station, established in 1785, and operated until 1942. Up until at least the 1830s when large numbers were placed in quarantine the overflow was housed in tents. During the Irish famine immigration period of 1845-47 the station was heavily used, with up to 2500 people in quarantine at one time. The island has six graveyards.


Only two quarantine buildings remained in 1998, and these were threatened with demolition by the Coast Guard which manages the island.


7.8             NHQS Assessment :

                   Assessment and NSW Heritage Criteria


7.8.1          Preamble


The statement of cultural and natural significance is the basis for policies and management structures that will affect the future of the place.


The NSW heritage assessment criteria for significance are based on the criteria within the ICOMOS Burra Charter, which are the accepted standard used within the Australian heritage conservation profession. The ICOMOS Burra Charter defines cultural significance to mean '… aesthetic, historic, scientific, social or spiritual value for past, present and future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different people or communities'.


The Australian Natural Heritage Charter defines Natural significance as '… the importance of ecosystems, biological diversity and geodiversity for their existence value, or for present and future generations in terms of their scientific, social, aesthetic and life-support value'.[17]


7.8.2      Criteria for State Heritage Significance


An item will be considered to be of State heritage significance if, in the opinion of the NSW Heritage Council, it meets one or more of the following criteria:


Criterion A

An item is important in the course, or pattern, of NSW's cultural or natural history;

Criterion B

An item has strong or special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in NSW's cultural or natural history;

Criterion C

An item is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in NSW;

Criterion D

An item has strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW for social, cultural or spiritual reasons;

Criterion E

An item has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of NSW's cultural or natural history;

Criterion F

An item possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of NSW's cultural or natural history;

Criterion G

An item is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of NSW's cultural or natural places; or cultural or natural environments.


While all criteria should be referred to during the assessment, only particularly complex items or places will be significant under all criteria. In most cases items of environmental heritage will be significant under only one or two criteria.


An item is required to meet only one criterion to be eligible for listing. An item is not excluded from the Register on the ground that items with similar characteristics have already been listed on the Register.


Within the following assessment against the NSW criteria, the Aboriginal, Colonial/Modern and Natural heritage values have been dealt with sequentially.


7.8.3          Assessment Against the Criteria


Criterion A

'… important in the course, or pattern, of NSW’s cultural or natural history'


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The North Head Quarantine Station is the oldest, largest and most intact of the quarantine stations in Australia. It was always the pre-eminent place of quarantine among the colonies, both because of its early beginnings, and because it led in many of the advances in quarantine practice. The Station's function remained unchanged from 1828 to 1984 and all buildings and developments illustrate the changing social and scientific demands of quarantine during that period. The station was also central to the development of the colony of NSW’s responses to local epidemics of infectious diseases.


The history of the Quarantine Station, which is well illustrated by its buildings, sites and landscapes, interconnects with a number of key themes in NSW’s history. The demands of quarantine, and the spotlight this cast on health standards, forced improvements in the conditions experienced by immigrants travelling to NSW, through the nineteenth century in particular. The procedures established for the quarantine of inbound shipping set the foundation for responding to the various local smallpox, plague and influenza epidemics up until the 1920s. The Quarantine Station also provided a safe haven to which the ill could be removed and treated. On a broader scale, the Quarantine Station dramatically demonstrates, in its development of arrangements to separate and deal differently with different classes and races of people, the changes in the social attitudes of the colony and State. This separation based on social status was most clearly evidenced by the barrier fences erected between the various class 'compounds'.


The final transfer of the Quarantine Station to the State reflects the now-common pattern whereby land formerly reserved for special purposes, and protected from the development pressures of the urban areas surrounding them, become valued for the cultural and natural values they possess and are re-gazetted for conservation purposes when no longer needed for their special purposes.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage


Some of the earliest collections of marine specimens were made at Spring Cove and are now housed in the Australian Museum. These collections were made in the 1830s and therefore have significance in the natural history of Sydney Harbour.


The Little Penguin population is the only remaining mainland population of this species in New South Wales. This is important to the natural history of this species. Its continued survival is equally important to the future pattern of conservation management of endangered species.


The successful management of other threatened species in the Quarantine Station is similarly important to the course of NSW's natural history. The effects on other biodiversity elements of the further decline or loss of these threatened species is unknown but could be significant to the natural history of the place.


Criterion B

'… has strong or special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in NSW’s cultural or natural history'


Margin note:

Aboriginal Heritage


The Quarantine Station is associated with the Aboriginal presence, ownership and use of the land prior to and after European settlement. As part of the wider Manly area it is associated with named Aboriginal persons, such as Bungaree’s wife Gooseberry, Bennelong and Wil-le-me-ring, who played a part in the early European settlement of Sydney. Due to an apparent misunderstanding, Governor Philip was speared by Wil-le-me-ring in a bay in or near the Quarantine area [possibly Spring Cove or Little Manly Cove].


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The Quarantine Station has played an important part in the lives of many Australians, with over 13,000 persons, including convicts and free migrants to NSW and many Sydney residents, being quarantined, of whom an estimated 572 have died and are buried there. The inscriptions at the site are an unusual testimony to those associations.


The Station has also been closely associated with the administration of health by NSW and the Commonwealth, and a number of health administrators prominent in the development of NSW’s public health policies and practices have had close and long associations with the Station. These included Deas Thomson, Capt. H.H. Browne, Dr Savage, Dr Allyne, Dr J.H.L. Cumpston, and Dr W.P. Norris. Bernard King was quarantined at the Station in the 1970s.


The Station played a pivotal role in the post-WWII period with the housing of illegal immigrants [as detainees] and refugees to Australia [prior to the 'boat people' phase]. The Station thus reflects the maritime arrival and 'processing' not only of quarantined immigrants, but also of illegal and refugee arrivals. The 'down-turn' in Station activity parallelled the post-WWII change to airborne migration.


Finally, the Station was the setting for socio-political dramas such as the revolt of the returned [and quarantined] troops after WWI; and the confrontations between secular and religious authorities in NSW over access by religious entities to the Quarantine Station.


Criterion C

An item is important in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and/or a high degree of creative or technical achievement in NSW


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The Quarantine Station has a cultural landscape that is distinctly associated with its unusual functions, and which evokes strong responses from those experiencing it. It is a landscape of rigid control, with overtones of disease and death, yet firmly based in what is now considered to be a visually attractive setting of natural bush and harbour views. The unity of the design and form of the buildings, set within grassy precincts, which convey a pleasant village-like feeling, unusual within the Sydney metropolitan area.


The Quarantine Station bears witness to the evolution of public health policy in NSW and Australia generally, and the development of practices and procedures designed to protect the colony, state and nation from infectious disease. The quarantine system, which reached its full form in the first decades of this century, was a significant technical achievement, and was in part developed at the North Head Quarantine Station where it is well demonstrated in the surviving fabric.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage


The aesthetic characteristics derived from the natural values of heath vegetation and sandstone cliff geomorphology within the Quarantine Station are an integral part of the outstanding aesthetic values of North Head conserved as part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.


These values are derived from the expanse of uninterrupted cliff face and vegetated headlands. They are appreciated and enjoyed both from offshore and within Port Jackson. Together with those of South Head, they have enormous emotional impact on people arriving and leaving Sydney by sea. This impact is greater because the sheer cliff faces are capped with continuous low heath vegetation rather than tall forest or prominent buildings. Spectacular views of the drowned valley system of North and Middle Harbours are seen from within the Quarantine Station.


Criterion D

'… has strong or special associations with a particular community or cultural group in NSW for social, cultural or spiritual reasons'


Margin note:

Aboriginal Heritage


Aboriginal heritage values at North Head, including the Quarantine Station area, are important to the Aboriginal community in general, and to the local community especially for a wide range of reasons, social, cultural and spiritual.


Aboriginal presence in the area is older than Sydney Harbour [as we know it today]. Port Jackson and Sydney Harbour have been the scene of some of the earliest fateful interactions between Aborigines and the British invaders. The surviving North Head Aboriginal sites are seen as symbolising Aboriginal history of recent centuries as well as earlier times.


The area is one of the last within Sydney Harbour environment where Aboriginal heritage values have been retained in a physical setting that is substantially intact [along with Dobroyd, Middle, Georges, Bradleys, South and Balls Heads; Mount Treffle at Nielsen Park; and Hermitage Reserve]. This environment allows the Aboriginal community to educate the younger and future generations as well as others about Aboriginal history, life styles and values and provides a chance of experiencing some of the atmosphere and quality of traditional Aboriginal life.


Aspects of these heritage values are embedded in or embodied by physical remains such as images or deposits with archaeological material remaining as evidence of past Aboriginal presence, but these are seen as an inseparable part of the present natural setting. Evidence of Aboriginal occupation has been recorded in more that forty locations in the North Head area.


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The Quarantine Station has strong associations for several groups in the community for social and cultural reasons. These associations include connections to the Aboriginal community, for whom the Quarantine Station is a component of the North Head/Manly area. This area has strong associations with previous Aboriginal ownership and use; with the impact of European settlement on the Aborigines; and through specific acts of Aboriginal resistance in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. North Head Quarantine Station also has associations with the former Quarantine Station staff, who worked on the station while it was an active quarantine; with former passengers subjected to quarantine, and their families [ eg as exemplified by the Constitution memorial and family commemoration of their forebears' quarantine experience]; and with the Manly community, as part of the wider North Head landscape, which has significantly contributed to the 'sense of place' of that community.


Criterion E

'… has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of NSW’s cultural or natural history'


Margin note:

Aboriginal and Colonial/Modern Heritage


The surviving fabric of the place, both through its elements, components and subsurface [above and below ground] archaeological evidence, have considerable research value at a State level, with the potential to provide information on the operation of the Quarantine Station and of those in quarantine, and so to add to our knowledge of its history.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage


The area of North Head including the Quarantine Station is a remnant fragment containing once highly common vegetation types in the Sydney region. Many of these vegetation types and the wildlife they support are confined to disturbed remnants with the original vegetation having been cleared for urban and industrial development.


Over 450 species of plants are found on North Head. Ninety species of native birds have been recorded in the Quarantine area including some species covered by international migratory bird agreements.


The long period of 'isolation' of North Head as a 'tied island' initially allowed the species of flora and terrestrial fauna on the Head to evolve independently from those found elsewhere in the Sydney Basin. Although no longer tied, and now subject to the introduction of exotic flora and fauna, this early isolation has enhanced the value to science of the biodiversity on North Head.


The response of plants and animals to periodic burning and periods without burning has potential to yield information important to the understanding of the natural history of the Hawkesbury Sandstone flora and fauna.


Criterion F

'… possesses uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of NSW’s cultural or natural history'


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The Quarantine Station, as NSW’s primary quarantine facility for 166 years, held a unique place in the State’s history, and its remarkably well preserved set of quarantine structures, landscape features and inscriptions make it a place of great rarity. The functions it fulfilled are no longer used to control quarantinable diseases, and the North Head Quarantine Station has the best representative collection of quarantine related buildings, equipment and human memorabilia [in the form of the inscriptions] of any Australian quarantine station.


The Station is also significant in Australia's Colonial and Modern history as being one of the few Australian sites taken into conservation ownership and management directly after its original function and use had been ended.

Margin note:

Natural Heritage


Three species, one subspecies and populations of two other species are listed in schedules of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. These species are the Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor [Schedule 1, endangered population, Manly]; Long-nosed Bandicoot, Perameles nasuta [Schedule 1, endangered population North Head]; the Sunshine Wattle, Acacia terminalis ssp terminalis [Schedule 1, endangered]; Camfields Stringybark, Eucalyptus camfieldii [Schedule 2, vulnerable]; the Powerful Owl, Ninox strenua [Schedule 2, vulnerable]; and the Red-crowned Toadlet, Pseudophryne australis [Schedule 2, vulnerable]. In addition to the threatened plant species there are over 450 other species of vascular plants and ferns representing 109 plant families. This level of genetic diversity if scientifically interesting and aesthetically pleasing.


The endangered population of Little Penguin is significant as the only population of this species which breeds on the mainland of NSW. The characteristics which have enabled this population to persist in one of the busiest commercial harbours in the world are interesting for scientific study. The endangered population of Long-nosed Bandicoot is also scientifically interesting as a remnant population of a species which was formerly common and widespread in the Sydney region. The few remaining trees of Camfields Stringybark are a significant component of the entire genetic resource of this vulnerable species.


Criterion G

'… is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of NSW’s cultural or natural places; or cultural or natural environments'


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The Quarantine Station has the best collection of features in Australia reflecting the practise of quarantine, once operating at a number of stations around the nation. NSW had the first, and the last, operational quarantine station at North Head, and the surviving evidence at the station demonstrates many of the key milestones in quarantine development in this country. The moveable heritage of Quarantine Station is considerable in size, and has cultural significance in its own right.


7.8.4          North Head Quarantine Station:

                   Primary Statement of Significance


Margin note:

Colonial/Modern Heritage


The outstanding values of the place translate into layers of emotions that are readily evoked by the breathtaking scenery and unsurpassed views of the Harbour and the City beyond and the contrast of those views with the tranquil calm of the Quarantine and Store beaches. Most powerful of all is the tangible sense of isolation, which, together with death and disease, are the essence the history of the place.


The primary significance of the Quarantine Station is its ability to evoke powerful emotions about this country and the early years of European settlement including the impact of the arrival of Europeans on the native habitat and the native inhabitants. Strong meanings are embodied in the landform, the vegetation, the harbour and the sea. The significance of the place is strongly reflected in its intactness and its ability to demonstrate all phases of its history and to convey a sense of its uniqueness through its setting and the nature of its buildings and other elements.


Many aspects of the place contribute to its meaning and its significance. North Head has retained much of its traditional ambience. The strong meaning and spirituality of the place to Aboriginal people is tangible also to Europeans. Its isolation is palpable.


The rugged topography of the southern rock cliffs in the area of Old Mans Hat, where the power of the sea is manifest, and where the healthy European detainees sought relief from the confinement of the Quarantine Station, contrasts strongly with the sanctuary of Quarantine and Store Beaches, where European vessels were first quarantine and from where the food gathering and cultural activities of Aboriginal people were abruptly halted.


Margin note:

Natural Heritage


Rare and endangered species of flora and fauna are refuged at the place and in the wider area of North Head. Considered alone or ecologically as part of North Head, the Quarantine Station area includes significant geodiversity and biodiversity components of the natural heritage of New South Wales. The Station is part of an isolated cliff-bound tied island complex formed by the interaction of strong bedrock and erosion associated with changes of sea level tens of thousands of years ago. The headland is capped by Pleistocene high-level sand dunes which also occur within the Station complex.


The natural biodiversity consists of isolated, remnant and disjunct communities, populations and species, six of which are scheduled on the Threatened Species Conservation Act [NSW] 1995. In addition to the threatened plant species there are over 450 other species of vascular plants and ferns representing 109 plant families. This level of genetic diversity is scientifically interesting and aesthetically pleasing.


The endangered population of Little Penguin is significant as the only population of this species which breeds on the mainland of NSW. The characteristics which have enabled this population to persist in one of the busiest commercial harbours in the world are interesting for scientific study. The endangered population of Long-nosed Bandicoot is also scientifically interesting as a remnant population of a species which was formerly common and widespread in the Sydney region. The few remaining trees of Camfields Stringybark are a significant component of the entire genetic resource of this vulnerable species.


Evidence of Aboriginal occupation is evident in more than forty recorded sites. An exceptional wealth of further information may be contained in the archaeology of the place and in particular in the Pleistocene sand dunes – the only undisturbed, vegetated high-level sand dunes in the Sydney region.


Evidence of the hardships experienced by Europeans during their detention in Quarantine, and the tragic deaths of so many of them, is powerfully conveyed by the inscriptions on the gravestones, monuments and amongst the random inscriptions scattered throughout the site.


The class system which permeated early Anglo-Celtic society in this country is illustrated clearly in the extant building fabric and in cultural landscape which contains the subtle evidence of the fences and paths which were contrived to maintain absolute separation between the classes and between the healthy and the sick, the dying and the dead, at the Quarantine Station.


The whole place harbours authentic evidence of early natural systems and historic built forms, due to its isolation from the rest of the Sydney metropolitan region, where the normal pace of change and modern developments have destroyed or contaminated similar evidence.


7.8.5          Comparative Significance :

                   Quarantine Station Fabric Features and Artefacets


Fabric, Features and Artefacts of Primary Significance


All evidence of Aboriginal occupation and activity

All rare, endangered and indigenous flora and fauna

All rock engravings, inscriptions and monuments

All artefacts that were used at the site prior to 1984

All authentic building fabric associated with the use of the place as a quarantine station


Fabric and Features of Contributory Significance


Introduced ornamental flora and fauna

Fabric associated with Commonwealth Government prior to 1984


Fabric and Features of Little or No Significance


Some modern elements introduced into the accommodation areas including some, but not all:

Concrete roofing tiles

Asbestos cement roof sheeting and rainwater goods

Acoustic board ceiling and wall linings

Asbestos cement sheet linings in services areas

Aluminium framed windows and flush doors


Everything introduced since 1984, including:

Colorbond and other non-traditional roof plumbing

Paint finishes that are not based on accurate research

Furniture, carpets and soft furnishings in the accommodation areas

New services

Introduced flora and fauna species


7.8.6          North Head Quarantine Station :

                   Precinctual Statements of Significance




While the statement of significance presented above applies to all of the Quarantine Station study area, individual precincts within the area make specific contributions to the overall significance. It is important to understand how each precinct contributes to the significance of the place so that appropriate conservation policies and implementation strategies can be developed to conserve them. The following statements are informed by the NSW Heritage Criteria, but the statements are not set out with specific reference to those criteria.


The Quarantine Station Precinct


As the first point of contact with the Quarantine Station the Wharf area is of historic technological and social significance. It was the first landfall for many immigrants to Australia and reflects Australia's dependence on maritime transport up until the 1940s. The buildings of the Station, which have their own Australian vernacular aesthetic, were probably the first Australian buildings to be glimpsed by the immigrant travellers.


The wharf buildings are of historic significance because they are remarkably intact in their early 20th century form [except for the now demolished reception room and the 'gutting' of one shower block], and they illustrate the entire process of entry to the Quarantine Station and the methods of disinfection used in the early 20th century. They are the most extensive and cohesive group of buildings of their type of any surviving quarantine station in Australia.


The buildings are of historic significance because they have retained many of their internal fittings and machinery and can demonstrate their original functions and the technology and barrier systems used to control the spread of infectious diseases. The most important elements in this precinct are the autoclaves, the formalin chambers, power house, luggage sheds, laundry and bath houses. The extensive collection of rock inscriptions adjacent to the wharf area buildings include some of the finest and most historically important on the Station. The placement of so many inscriptions at this spot indicates the desire of their makers to have their messages and work seen and appreciated by new arrivals, either as memorial to those who had died, or as a message of camaraderie from those who had survived.


The line of introduced Canary Island Palm trees sheltering some of the rock engravings are a distinctive landscape element and redolent of the early part of the 20th century when this species was widely planted. As many ships bound for Australia stopped at the Canary Islands the sight of this avenue when first landing may have been significant to some people.


The line planting was as significant as the road in leading to the unknown as far as new arrivals were concerned.


The wharf area was, in effect, the point at which the quarantine internees were 'classed' and 'segregated'. From the wharf they were led to segregated [class and gender categories] cleansing facilities, and from there to the 'classed' accommodation.


This processing of internees extended not only to the human internees. All luggage was 'processed' as part of the quarantine rituals of arrival and entry.


The Hospital is located on the small promontory to the south of Quarantine Beach, whose windy location was considered ideal for dissipating the vapours and miasmas which were thought to spread infectious disease. Because it was isolated during quarantine from the rest of the Quarantine Station, it had its own facilities, such as medical staff quarters and its own kitchen; as well as various hospital buildings. The Hospital area is of historic value because it demonstrates the evolution of the technology of the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, especially the late Victorian/early 20th century view, emphasising the barrier system, the hierarchy of categories of health risks and the self-contained nature of hospital treatment.


The Hospital, Doctors' and Nurses' area has considerable aesthetic significance because of the sense of mortality and morbidity it evokes. The buildings within this area form a progressively developed institutional complex of architectural interest, which demonstrate a contemporary response to climatic and administrative needs. Key elements within this area are the timber ward built in 1882 and c.1912, the brick ward and changing block. The views from the Hospital towards Sydney must have been tantalising for the sick who had travelled so far and yet although in sight of their destination were prevented from reaching it.


The Isolation area consists of a single group of small buildings and a hut, and was used to house the potentially infectious. It functioned as a 'quarantine area within a quarantine area' and demonstrates a stage of development in the medical treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and is of historic significance. It has aesthetic significance because it also evokes a sense of personal risk and mortality. The buildings have architectural interest and aesthetic value as an institutional complex with a unity of form and construction, which demonstrate a contemporary response to climatic and social needs. The isolation wards, specifically their external form and internal arrangement, are the most important elements within the Isolation area.


The existing passenger Accommodation dates from 1875 to early in the 20th century and is divided into three classes, plus the 'Asiatic' quarters. As each of these areas was strictly segregated during quarantine each Accommodation area had its own kitchen, dining areas and, for the fortunate, recreation areas. The Accommodation areas are collectively significant as components of the Quarantine Station and have aesthetic value because of their form, building materials and relationship to each other. They are significant because of the type and quality of building materials, fittings and contents and their grouped arrangement. These groups demonstrate 19th and early 20th century attitudes to living arrangements, based on social and employment status, gender, marital status and race.


They also possess an interesting architectural character, being a combination of a domestic form and institutional scale. The planting of Canary Island Palms beside the first class accommodation but not elsewhere is landscape evidence of the social stratification.


The present Administration area was based around the Superintendent's Residence, with associated stores and workshops. This area demonstrates the nature, range and evolution of the administrative infrastructure required to support all other quarantine functions [i.e. disinfection, hospital and accommodation]. The location of the Administration area, separating Third class and 'Asiatics' areas from First and Second classes, and its dominance of the land access road, reinforce its role in controlling both quarantine and the social behaviour of those quarantined. As such it is of considerable historical value. Key elements are the Superintendents Residence and the staff mess / immigration centre.


Margin note:

'Oh to be in quarantine,

Now that summer's here,

Phoning up your friends at work,

Sending out for beer.

Bathe by day and bridge by night,

Life of endless play.

Oh to be in quarantine

Banking up your pay.'

Aorangi, 1935. Quarantined by smallpox


This area also provided the centralised services for the healthy, including the doctors' rooms and the post office and public telephone. The diary entry for the ship Aorangi [see margin column] explains the significance of this contact to the 'outside' world. Building A20 [the Quarantine Staff Mess] is also significant for its use, in the 1960s, for housing illegal immigrants to Australia.


The outlying staff cottages vary in date and architectural style, ie from the weatherboard 'Government' vernacular of the early 20th century to the solid brick buildings of the 1930s. the significance of these cottages is in their placement and siting, and in the gradual change in standards of domestic residence within a Government health facility over, say, 100 years.


Other North Head Precincts


The surrounding North Head precincts contain few Quarantine Station sites, but importantly includes the Second and Third Cemeteries, the boundary walls and the Old Mans Hat inscriptions. The cemeteries are historically important as the physical reminder of the mortality experienced at the Station [and in military duty. Many of those buried in the Third Cemetery are military personnel]. The Old Mans Hat inscriptions are evocative reminders of the human responses to quarantine, with inmates escaping the formal confines of the Station area to carve memorials in sight of the sea and Sydney. The stone boundary walls, built sequentially up until the 1930s, document the progressive shrinking of the Quarantine Station as the functions of the Station diminished; and the competing functions [local Hospital, Defence land and sewerage treatment] hungrily took up whatever North Head land that was on offer. The surrounding precincts also contain other archaeological deposits related to the Station's history.


The artillery battery site at Quarantine Head, the slit-trench air raid shelters between it and the Station and the burials in the Third Cemetery, demonstrate the links of the place to the military history of NSW. Thousands of returning servicemen were quarantined after WWI due to the influenza pandemic; and during WWII the military occupied much of the Station, including the construction of the battery.


The Marine Precinct


The North [Sydney] Harbour Aquatic Reserve extends from Cannae Point  [North Head] in the east to Kilburn Towers [Middle Harbour] in the west excluding an area close to Manly wharf. It was gazetted as a reserve in 1982 in recognition of the great variety of habitats and marine life, including seahorses and sea dragons, grey nurse sharks and juvenile tropical fish and essential sea grass beds which live there. It is also habitat for the endangered population of Little Penguin and has been visited by the Southern Right Whale and the Humpback Whale.


The Aquatic Reserve has scientific significance as the area from which some of the Colony's earliest marine specimens were collected in the 1830s by Dr James Stuart a superintendent of the Quarantine Station. His collections and drawings are housed at the Australian Museum.



[1]           FROQS comment on 1992 Conservation Plan, 15 November 1999

[2]           Peter McLaren, consultant, letter 17 November

[3]           Responses from Sheila Newman-Truswell, Marianne Ryderch and Rick le Plastrier respectively, 1999

[4]               Powers, S.M. 1984. ‘Maritime Quarantine and the former Quarantine Station, Point Nepean: An assessment of cultural significance’, report for Department of Housing and Construction; 87-90.

[5]           Powers 1984: 92, 121.

[6]           Powers 1984: 94.

[7]           Ludlow, P. 1995. ‘Peel Island: Quarantine as incarceration’, in Pearn, J. & Carter, P. (eds) 1995. Islands of incarceration: convict and quarantine islands of the Australian coast, The Australian Society of the History of Medicine, Amphion Press; 93-109: 101.

[8]           Powers 1984: 149.

[9]           Dusting, R. 1996. ‘Torrens Island Quarantine Station conservation management plan’, a Works Australia report for Australian Estate Management.; Powers 1984: 143.

[10]          Powers 1984: 145; Kevin Palassis Architects, 1996. Conservation Plan, Camp Quaranup (Former Quarantine Station), Albany, Western Australia, for Department of Contract and Management Services.

[11]          Powers 1984: 145.

[12]          National Trust WA file notes; National Trust WA Trust News, August 1982.

[13]          Powers 1984: 145.

[14]             Quan, D. 1999. ‘Angel Island Immigration Station’, Cultural Resource Management, No. 8, 1999: 16-19.

[15]             Sévigny, A. 1995. ‘Quarantine and public health: the changing role of Grosse Île’, Parks Canada web site article.

[16]          Sévigny 1995

[17]          Cairnes, 1997



in 1999

on site

in the past

This page was created 23rd January, 2000, by Judith Bennett,  Friends of Quarantine Station,
and was last modified 20th January, 2007.